Marion woman and her mother share a storied history

Sep 11, 2018

MARION — It’s been decades in the making, but a Marion woman and her mother have co-published a children’s history book to give little children an understanding of the heritage of the area.

Erin Zell of Marion and her mother, Diane Finn of Carver, have been collaborating on “The Secrets of Plymouth Rock” since the late 1980s. After several incarnations, the book is in hardcover, with Finn as author and Zell as illustrator.

“I was a teacher in Plymouth schools for over 30 years and I also ran a company with my husband Dan called ‘Colonial Lantern Tours’,” Finn explained.

While an elementary school teacher, Finn was awarded a grant to work with Plimoth Plantation. She gathered all sorts of little known facts from the plantation’s archives and tailored them to fit her young audience.

Plimoth Planation decided to hire to Finn to give children’s walking history tours.

“Basically, I was doing tours for little kids, but it was difficult for them to appreciate the story of Plymouth Rock, of how it’s been dropped, broken, chipped and moved,” Finn said.

Her daughter, Erin, was a senior in high school in the late 1980s and had a talent for drawing. Finn asked her daughter to come up with some drawings to match the story she told little children about Plymouth Rock.

Zell, who was about to leave for college to study visual design, came up with an imaginative solution.

“I made these big flashcards where I started these original drawings and then (my mother) would take them and paste the story on the back of them so she’d hold up the card and then tell the story,” Zell recalled.

Zell’s giant flashcards, featuring a happy child-like rock, seemed to strike a chord with children and adults.

“People would say to me, ‘You should make a book out of that. We’d read it to our children. Teachers would tell me that,” Finn said.

Finn acted on those suggestions and, using her daughter’s original black and white drawings, she self-published small batches of soft covered, staple bound editions of her children’s history book. The books were sold at Plimoth Plantation’s gift shop and other shops in Plymouth’s waterfront area, where they quickly sold out.

Finn has also written and published an adult history book, “Witches Brew & Mother Crewe,” about real witches in Plymouth.

Zell, now a mother of two young adults, is proud of her mother’s work, and thinks it’s the perfect way to teach young children about the history of Plymouth Rock.

“She made a story out of it, where the rock actually tells the story,” Zell said of her mother’s story. “He’s personified. He’s the main character. You can see what he goes through.”

The retired school teacher believes you must become almost child-like in the story telling for children to relate.

“I envisioned before the Pilgrims came the rock was all alone on the beach. He was lonely,” Finn said of how she conceptualized the story. “The ship comes in, and he’s curious. Then they step on the rock and say ‘Thank goodness for this rock.’ And they land and build the village.”

“It tells history from the rock’s point of view. It allows you to branch off into so many things about the Pilgrims, the Revolution, about Plymouth, and history in general,” Finn said.

Zell, who co-owns and manages Brew Fish Bar & Eatery in Marion with her husband, Todd Zell, doesn’t draw much these days, but she has updated her original black-and-white drawings with pastel watercolors.

With Plymouth’s 400th anniversary celebration coming up in 2020, Finn and her daughter think there will be plenty of interest in their children’s history book.

In the meanwhile, the book can be purchased for $15.95 per copy at Plimoth Plantation gift shop, and at several Plymouth waterfront area shops, including Cranberry House Gift Shop at 145 Water Street, and at Windemere Gift & Book Shoppe at 2b  Court Street. Books can be ordered online at: